Love provides Hope
In late June the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill that examined one of the most painful topics named among American Indians and Alaska Natives. The topic dealt the high rates of suicides among Native youth. American Indian and Alaska Native youth suicides are two-and-half times the national average. Clustered in time and space, the staggering numbers rise as high as 18 times the national average.
The June hearing was the sixth such hearing held by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs during the past decade on the subject.
While the Committee can be commended for holding the hearing, there must be drastic action taken that goes beyond hearing the testimony.
Native youth choose to end their lives rather than live their futures. Apparently, far too many Native youth see dismal futures without any hope. There are a variety of reasons that contribute to these feelings of hopelessness. Sadly, there are many social ills that still plague Indian Country, such as the lack of jobs on reservations that translate into unemployment rates of 80 percent, which translate into high levels of poverty filled with overcrowded substandard housing and poor health.
Dismal lives with complex social ills can bring people to feelings of hopelessness quickly. When people feel hopeless, they seek relief from pain. They may turn to pills, alcohol or even death.
Beyond the social ills, Native youth face other problems common to many teens across America, such as bullying, breakup in romantic relationships and broken families.
Obviously, there are no short cuts to alter a trend that has crippled reservations across Indian Country for decades.
Finding solutions to the Native youth suicide problem must a top priority at various fronts. The Obama administration and Congress must attempt to find sustainable solutions to this horrific problem.
The onus cannot be on government. American Indians and Alaska Natives must begin to take responsibility to this critical issue.
Historically, Native people have prided themselves for being warriors. It is time for Indian Country to declare war on Native youth suicides.
The war on Native youth suicides must involve providing hope for the future for Native youth. Indian Country needs strong tribal economies that provide jobs, houses, health care and all the necessities of life.
Beyond providing life’s necessities, Native families and communities must display great love for our Native youth. Love provides hope.
Levi Rickert is publisher/editor of Native News Online. He is a tribal citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.